survey says

Common Core survey responses put focus on standards for youngest grades

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia at an education forum last year.

The state released final results of its online Common Core survey on Monday, which officials said garnered mainly positive feedback about the controversial learning standards from more than 10,500 respondents.

Seventy-one percent of survey responses were positive, according to the state data, and 29 percent of the responses disagreed with particular standards. Some Common Core critics called the survey, known as AIMHighNY, complicated and said it obscured broader critiques of the state’s Common Core-related policies by focusing narrowly on individual standards.

“The preliminary data from AIMHighNY show there is strong support for higher learning standards for New York’s students,” state education department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a statement. “However, the survey findings also indicate that adjustments are necessary, particularly in the early grades, to ensure our standards make sense for our students and schools.”

The results come as the Common Core standards, which list the skills students should learn at each grade level in English and math, are facing intense scrutiny. The survey was part of a legally mandated review of the standards prompted by growing anti-testing sentiment across New York and nationwide. Last week, a separate task force convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for changes to the standards, especially in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

The state’s survey also reflected concerns about the standards for the youngest grades, which received the most feedback. The English standards prompted three times any many responses as the math standards. (Those results mirror preliminary data that state education commissioner MaryEllen Elia presented in mid-November.)

In total, the state said it received 246,771 pieces of feedback from 10,532 people. Nearly half of the respondents were teachers, and 32 percent were parents. That means about 2.5 percent of the state’s teachers participated in the survey.

The state teachers union provided another set of responses from four small Long Island unions. Their feedback was more mixed, with 46 percent asking for changes to the standards.

The survey was criticized by some as too lengthy and cumbersome — it allows feedback on about 2,000 individual standards — but also too narrow, since many parents and teachers worry about the relationship between the Common Core standards, state tests, and teacher evaluations, more than any individual standards. NYS Allies for Public Education, an advocacy group that encouraged students to boycott this year’s Common Core tests and said the state’s survey was “designed to silence legitimate criticism,” created an alternative Common Core survey.

The results of the state’s survey will now be analyzed by a committee of teachers who will recommend revisions to the standards.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.